May 19, 2000

Video exposes effects of climate change on Inuvialuit

Game availability, hunting methods, human health all affected.

JANE GEORGE
Nunatsiaq News

MONTREAL — A video that looks at climate change through Inuit eyes may shake up southerners who may not realize how global warming is affecting traditional life in the Arctic.

That’s the intent of a video now in production that will show a year’s worth of subsistence activities in the Inuvialuit community of Sachs Habour on Banks Island.

Sachs Harbour’s climate is becoming increasingly mild. According to computer models, temperatures in the Western Arctic may actually rise 5 °C to 10 ºC over the next 100 years — more than in other parts of the world.

"It’s startling to see the changes due to global warming," said Graham Ashford, the video project’s director.

Called "Inuit Observations of Climate Change," this video is a project of the International Institute of Sustainable Development.

Rosemarie Kuptana, a former president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, is a director of the institute. Orginally from Sachs Harbour, Kuptana is also acting as a community liaison worker for this project, which received $280,000 from Canada’s Climate Change Action Fund, DIAND, and the government of the Northwest Territories.

Sachs Harbour residents say that they are now seeing more rain, stronger sunlight, and harsher winds. Their summers are now longer, while, during the cold months the sea ice is thinner and is present for shorter periods of time.

These longer, warmer summers also mean that the permafrost is melting, big chunks of land are falling off the island’s shores and around lake banks.

"It’s very dramatic," Ashford said.

There have been changes in land and sea creatures as well. Snow geese pass through the region more quickly, although some small birds are staying around for the whole winter.

New species such as salmon, herring and gri ly bears have also shown up near Sachs Harbour. Barn swallows and robins – also spotted last year in Nunavik and in Iqaluit – have been seen in Sachs Harbour, too.

On Banks Island there are also more muskox, although hunters have noted a higher number of deformed animals. At the same time, there are fewer caribou and fewer large male caribou

Seals are more plentiful than ever, Sachs Harbour residents say, but they are harder to get at because of the receding ice packs. This has forced Inuvialuit to look at new ways of hunting.

"We went with a husband and wife team who used to hunt seals just at the edge of the sea ice near the community," Ashford recounted. "Now, the sea ice is drifting far away from the community. They’re forced to go hunt in a boat, or wait on the shore. It’s a difficult situation."

The increasingly soft and muddy ground due to melting permafrost is also making transportation – and hunting muskox and caribou – much more difficult, if not impossible.

The film crew is supposed to return to Sachs Harbour in the end of May to document ice-fishing and the goose hunt, but climate changes have made scheduling the visit difficult.

"It’s hard to tell, with the variability of the seasons. They’re much less predictable," Ashford said.

Ashford said the video should bring home how Inuvialuit are trying cope with this new, unstable environment, and even illustrate some of the health problems that they’re suffering now. These include sunburn and allergies as a result of more light, heat and plant growth.

After the video is finished in September, the institute plans to use it to raise public awareness.

"If this rate of change continues, our lifestyle may forever change," Kuptana told reporters at a recent Ottawa news conference on global warming.

The team’s scientists also plan to write about the contribution that local observation and traditional knowledge can make to scientific understanding of global warming and climate change.